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Nikon 400mm f2.8 G ED VR AF-S lens review!

by
Matt Bennett

Simon Wright puts this pro lens through its paces at the GBR Olympic team trials

Nikon 400mm f2.8 G ED VR AF-S
Nikon 400mm f2.8 G ED VR AF-S

Olympic standard lens from Nikon? Simon Wright finds out.

Introduction

The 400mm f2.8 is one of the finest lenses Nikon has ever made. Over the years it’s undergone several modifications and upgrades – including the recent addition of VR (Vibration Reduction) – but the build and image quality have always remained second to none. Even wide open at f2.8 it produces beautiful, sharp images and is superb at tracking, focusing and capturing super fast action shots in low light. It’s the sports lens every Nikon camera wants to marry.

Build quality

The moment you heave it out of the small trunk it comes in you know you’re in the presence of some very high quality engineering. As you would expect from one of Nikon’s top (and most expensive) lenses there’s very little plastic and everything about this lens oozes quality. It’s built to cope with the rigours of fast and furious outdoor sports photography – the sort of environment where accidents frequently happen – so the metal alloy casing and seals are all built to last.

Handling

All that glass and metal alloy casing means this lens is very big and consequently very, very heavy. Do not even think about using this lens without a mono or tripod. I managed to squeeze off a few quick crowd shots by holding it up to the spectator area without the monopod but after about ten seconds my arms were shaking. However once you get used to the monopod its handling becomes easy with my only gripe being the location of the VR on/off switch. Rather than use a button Nikon elected to use a plastic slider which is not easy to use in the heat of the moment when you’ve cranked down the shutter speed to get some nice portrait shots at distance but it’s a minor point. Focus lock is available by pressing one of three buttons towards the front of the lens and there’s the usual range of Nikon telephoto lens options within easy reach.

Performance

Using a D700 body I was mostly shooting wide open at 1/1000th second and ISO1600 with Dynamic AF mode in that gorgeous indoor sodium light we all love to hate. Yet its laser sharp, lightening quick AF-S focus tracking coped with just about everything I threw at it and still produced images with fabulous detail, beautiful skin tones, lovely rich colours and no visible distortion. Crank down the shutter speed and activate the VR and you also have a lovely portrait lens with lovely bokeh.

Distortion

This lens has the best Nikon Nano Crystal coated glass money can buy. I mainly shot between f2.8 and f4.0 and could found no visible vignetting, chromatic aberration or ghosting and resolution was extremely good. Because it’s a fixed super-telephoto I ended up doing a lot of cropping in post-production but even with very tight crops on RAW images the resolution was more than acceptable.

Verdict

I specialise in aquatic sports so generally I work in public swimming pools with just about the worst light and camera wrecking conditions you can get: low power yellow sodium lights, high humidity and lots and lot of splashing water! My usual weapon of choice is the trusty 80-200mm f2.8, but this lens took my photography to a whole new level. The lens really does live up to its legendary reputation. When I looked around the media tent at the Olympic trials event most of the pro sports shooters I saw had a Nikon 400mm f2.8. Enough said.

Swimmer Aimee Willmott celebrates after qualifying for the 2012 Olympic games
Swimmer Aimee Willmott celebrates after qualifying for the 2012 Olympic games
An official at the Olympic trials looking for inspiration!
An official at the Olympic trials looking for inspiration!
The 400mm also allowed me to get some great crowd shots like this one
The 400mm also allowed me to get some great crowd shots like this one
Young swimmer launches herself off the blocks in one of the first ever races in the new London 2012 Olympic pool
Young swimmer launches herself off the blocks in one of the first ever races in the new London 2012 Olympic pool
Rebecca Adlington looks to the heavens after qualifiying for the 2012 Olympic games
Rebecca Adlington looks to the heavens after qualifiying for the 2012 Olympic games
The swimmer Ellie Gandy prepares to race in the final of the 200m butterfly
The swimmer Ellie Gandy prepares to race in the final of the 200m butterfly
Flying backstroke start, took this shot from the side of the pool and kept the focus on the swimmer in the middle to give it depth.
Flying backstroke start, I took this shot from the side of the pool and kept the focus on the swimmer in the middle to give it depth
Young paralympic swimmer exiting from a turn. I took this shot from high up on top of the giant scoreboard and cropped right in
Young paralympic swimmer exiting from a turn. I took this shot from high up on top of the giant scoreboard and cropped right in
GBR swimmer Lizzie Simmonds starts a backstroke race
GBR swimmer Lizzie Simmonds starts a backstroke race
The start of a race. This shows how good the focusing is on the 400mm
The start of a race. This shows how good the focusing is on the 400mm

Check out more of Simon’s work at http://www.gbswimstars.com/

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    • Pingback: Nikon 400mm f2.8 G ED VR AF-S lens review! | Accessories | Digital … - nikon-lenses

    • http://gravatar.com/meichelart Klaus Schäfer

      Hi Matt
      Great shots !
      the one i like most,is the one from the girl underwater,with air comming out of the nose
      regards,klaus

    • Pingback: Nikon 400mm f2.8G VR at DP UK | Techmixup

    • http://lollypupgirl.webs.com/ sharla

      AMAZING PHOTOGRAPHY!!! GREAT JOB!! LOVE THE ELLIE GANDY BUTTERFLY FINISH SHOT!

    • Gavin

      Brief,to the point,detailed and informative,great shots as well.Can I get a lens equal to this for a sony alpha 77 ? cheers,G.

    • http://www.wildphotolife.co.uk Tim Munsey

      Great to have a review about the 400mm, seem hard to come by, but isn’t that a picture of the 300mm F/2.8 rather than the 400mm? I have a 400mm f/2.8 just love the super fast focusing, even faster than my 300mm F/2.8.

      Tim

    • Victor

      I must agree with Tim Munsey. That is a picture of the 300MM F/2.8.

      Here is the 400MM F/2.8

      http://www.nikonusa.com/Nikon-Products/Product/Camera-Lenses/2171/AF-S-NIKKOR-400mm-f%252F2.8G-ED-VR.html

    • http://www.jaypics.co.uk Jeff Thomas

      Wonderful lens and wish I could afford a new one, looking for a decent 2nd hand model at this time. Until then I’m going to have to manage with my old Nikon 300mm f2.8 I’m afraid. Wonderful pictures above.